OK. So sometimes you have to let people go. It’s not an easy task. But don’t wimp out like the management at Radio Shack did recently and fire your employees via email. These are human beings folks. Treat them that way. Here are some thoughts on the topic from Ruth Haag, author of Hiring and Firing (Taming Your Inner Supervisor)
In a troubled economy, it’s no surprise that so many companies turn to downsizing to stay solvent. What is surprising is the callous way some employers go about it. RadioShack is a notorious case in point. In early August, the electronics retailer held meetings to inform its employees that they would be sending layoff notifications via e-mail-yes, e-mail-in the coming weeks. In late August, the company carried through with its plans and informed 400 of its employees, via e-mail, that they were being laid off. Ruth Haag says this faux pas is not only an object lesson in what not to do, it’s a stark indicator that employers have lost sight of the importance of respect . . . and consequences are sure to be far worse than bad PR.
“While quick and expedient on the part of management, letting someone go in such a disrespectful way is destructive to morale and worker loyalty,” says Haag. “No wonder so many managers complain that employees show no respect and dedication to their jobs. Perhaps they’re reflecting what’s shown to them! Respect is a two-way street.”
It is bad enough to be laid off, adds Haag, but being told by an impersonal e-mail message worsens the situation. It makes employees feel that they were never important to the company. What’s more, being cyber-fired also will have a negative effect on the employees who aren’t being let go.
“First of all, the remaining workforce will be spending an inordinate amount of time talking about the layoffs, rather than working,” says Haag. “And as they will fear that they could meet the same fate, your best employees will begin looking for new jobs. To top it all off, the e-mail layoff method will most likely lead to trouble attracting dedicated workers in the future. What promising candidate will want to work for a company that treats its employees so inconsiderately?”
Laying off employees will always seem like a lose-lose situation, of course. But if done with a great amount of compassion and respect flowing from the employer to the employee, Haag says a company can avoid permanent damage to its reputation.
“When you must downsize, notify the entire company that financial problems exist and ask if there are any people who would like to a) volunteer for lay off, b) reduce their hours, or c) retire early,” suggests Haag. “Often, there are enough people who fit these categories that a large-scale involuntary layoff becomes unnecessary. This is a simple, yet very effective way to make the staff aware of the problem and invite them to be a part of the solution.”
But if you let employees know about financial difficulties, won’t your best workers become worried and leave? That’s highly unlikely, says Haag. The good employees will want to do what they can to help the company survive if management has built a loyal following.
The bottom line? If you follow RadioShack’s lead and lay off employees the wrong way, you’ll end up hurting your bottom line rather than salvaging it. Besides, treating people with respect is the right thing to do, says Haag.
“Some managers and CEOs forget that behind the numbers on the spreadsheet are workers with families to support and bills to pay,” says Haag. “Employees should be treated with respect at all times, and especially when you’re delivering the kind of news that affects their financial and emotional wellbeing.
“Companies should always cultivate strong relationships with their employees, even when times are good,” she adds. “Then, if a layoff is imminent, managers will want to meet with their employees face-to-face to explain the situation in person and show them the respect and compassion that they deserve. It will just be a natural way to interact. And who knows? The culture you create may make the whole layoff issue a moot point.”